A Rose by Any Other Name…

a special rose for a special day

From Marlis1 on flickr

(Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have been so hard on How Shakespeare Changed Everything given today’s title.)

One of the interesting things about book blogging is discovering all the idiosyncratic things I do in my reading that I had never noticed before. Almost exactly a year ago, I had a discussion here about how much attention I and other readers pay to physical descriptions of characters. That discussion was based on another review I saw of a book I really enjoyed, Between Friends by Kristy Kiernan and how physical description – or lack thereof – influenced our feelings about the book as readers. Kristy also responded with an author’s perspective.

Lately I’ve been thinking about another of my odd reading habits, which relates to the names of characters. It seems that I primarily have two settings when it comes to names: I ignore them, or they bother me. Honestly, most of the time I have no idea what the names of any given character are when I finish the book, often this is even the case when I am in the middle of the book. Realizing that I tend not to pay attention to the name OR physical characteristics makes me wonder exactly how I do identify characters, but I suppose this explain why I have trouble with books that have a large number of generally indistinct minor characters, if I don’t understand their actions and motivations, I just can’t keep them straight.

For me the name is not a word with meaning in and of itself, but it acts as short hand for everything that makes the character who they are. Which I assume is the case for many people, except maybe most of you actually pay attention to the name itself as well?

Which brings me to my second weirdness with names. Generally, the only times that I do pay attention to the name as a word is when it seems to me to jar with my experience of the character. There was one case in which a character with a name I didn’t think fit nearly ruined the book for me, because every single time she showed up I was drawn so far out of the story. More recently, I was occasionally distracted by two out of three women in Mothers & Daughters by Rae Meadows having flower names, although that book I still very much enjoyed. And, in fact, in that case the name issue caused me to continue to think about the book long after I had finished it, and I have now concocted a reason for the way the names flowed from one generation to the next which I think is consistent with the motivations of the characters. So, I suppose in that case the names eventually actually added to the story for me.

I’m putting all of this out there hoping that I’m not completely alone. Do you pay attention to the names of characters? Do character names ever change how you feel about a book? Am I insane?

I’d also love to hear from some authors how they name their characters. Just names you like? Names that mean something specific to the character? Another way?